Half Time Team Talk keeps Virgin Media ahead of the pack

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Virgin Media has something of a reputation when it comes to their annual approach to sustainability reporting. Year on year they break new ground, with a show-not-tell approach using digital media to get their messages across.  Having released their annual sustainability report this week, Katie Buchanan, Head of Sustainability at Virgin Media spoke to Alison Boothby.

“With the nation gripped with World Cup fever, it’s the perfect time for us to talk tactics, strategy and goals.” Katie told me. “In 2015, we set some ambitious sustainability goals with our ‘five in five’ plan. These long-term goals will transform the way we do business for the better by 2020. We’re at the halfway point of our deadline and we’re picking up the pace as we move sustainability away from being a ‘nice to do’ towards something that’s central to how we work and how we grow our business.”

Refreshing approach

To bring this to life for their customers, employees and external stakeholders, Katie and her team have worked closely with IC colleagues to make sure the messaging and call to action is really clear. She believes it is their strongest report yet. “We’re calling our  2017 Sustainability Report our ‘Half-Time Team Talk’ – a review of how we’re delivering against our sustainability goals, championing our successes and marking out the areas we need to work on.”

As you might expect, the report has plenty of the hallmarks of a Virgin brand. Yes, it’s fun yet candid in its approach. They don’t shy away from, nor gloss over, the bits that have fallen short of their goals. Simon Feldman, Senior Media Relations Manager at Virgin Media told me, “It’s a refreshing approach: a straight-up look at how we are performing against our five sustainability goals. It’s an honest review of what’s going well and the areas where we need to improve.”

Engaging and enabling

This year’s football themed report comes on the back of a series of innovative, digitally-driven campaigns including GIFs, employee led videos, animated videos, interactive scrolling PDFs and even the world’s first 3600 sustainability film, all designed to really engage their people around sustainability.

Katie picks up the story: “Every year we look to evolve the approach we take to communicating our performance update to ensure it is relevant to our stakeholders. Our stats suggest that our messages on sustainability are getting through:

  • Our sustainability content has three times higher engagement rates than the average corporate content on our site
  • 89% uplift in page views of the sustainability performance section of our website during the two months that followed our 2016 report launch
  • Five times more unique visitors to our sustainability webpages during the two months that followed our 2016 report launch
  • Nine, highly sharable GIFs have seen our performance messages reach more than 200,000 people (across Virgin Media owned channels)

“More than ever before, we need to get our people off the bench and into the game, providing them with the information and inspiration they need to help us reach our ambitious 2020 goals. To achieve our ‘plan to win’, in the second half (2018-2020), we are asking our people to join the squad. Everybody has a position to play in helping us grow our business in a way that’s good for people and the environment.

“That’s why we have launched the Sustainability Squad Selector– a fun tool to help our people understand what position they play – ‘Fan’, ’Striker’, ‘Coach’ or ‘Captain’ – and listed out a tactics page that clearly outlines what they can do to support our plan to win.

Communications progression

It has been a conscious progression over the past 6-7 years in terms of how sustainability performance has been communicated.  Initially it was just disclosure; measuring and reporting on environmental and social issues. Then, it moved to engagement, encouraging employees to tell their own stories about sustainability with short film clips on YouTube.  In 2017 they created a series of highly shareable, social media inspired GIFs to communicate their key sustainability messages, empoweringemployees to share the company story on social media. “Year on year we revolutionise our reporting, and this year it is all about enabling our people to be actively involved in delivering on our goals” said Katie.

“Time wise, the World Cup was a gift. We have a long association with football through our sponsorship of Southampton Football Club so for us it was a natural route to go down with this year’s campaign. We are communicating it through blogs, floor graphics, posters, badges and email signatures and across our social media channels. The campaign elements all have a strong visual identity and we expect it to resonate really well.”

Half-time analysis 

“While the tournament reaches its crescendo in Russia, here at Virgin Media we’re focusing our attention closer to home; taking stock of our 2017 sustainability performance and how we’re addressing the impact of our business on people, communities and society. It’s a good time to review tactics and pull together our key learnings to help us reset, refocus and reform our approach for the second half. While it’s not rocket- science, I hope it will be a handy reminder to other Sustainability teams – and it’s all about communication:

  1. Do fewer things really well. An oft-repeated phrase in a business, but it really makes sense when it comes to sustainability. By focusing on fewer issues where we can have a bigger impact, we’ve been able to make more progress. Before we set our ‘5 in 5’ goals in 2015, we had 27 targets to report on annually. It was difficult to drive change in all these areas, for our people to get behind and to tell a cohesive story about the impact we were having as a business.
  2. Set big, long-term goals. Although it felt scary at the time, we embraced a longer-term focus because thinking year-to-year was providing too trivial.  When we set our ‘Lower impact’ goal we could easily have gone with an easy-to-achieve target, instead we challenged ourselves to set a goal to reduce our impact despite plans to significantly grow our network It’s proving successful with an 8% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions since our 2014 baseline. A longer-term focus also enables you to constantly engage your people and refer back to something they are familiar with.
  3. Find new ways to story tell. We are constantly finding new ways to bring our story to life. One of our proudest moments in 2017 was seeing the spotlight shone on disability discrimination in football after we donated our shirt sponsorship of Southampton Football Club to Scope for their match against Manchester United. As well as generating headlines and great feedback from football fans, it was a great opportunity to engage our people about what we’re trying to achieve with our partnership with Scope. It’s about finding new ways to talk about ‘sustainability’ issues and activity without appearing in a dull corporate report.
  4. Don’t be afraid to look under the bonnet. With our disability action plan we asked ourselves some difficult questions about how we were really supporting disabled employees and customers. Those difficult questions mean we have created a plan that gets to the root of the barriers while also helping us to play a role in bringing other businesses with us through our #WorkWithMe campaign
  5. Governance is golden. Delivering long term goals and sustaining momentum is no easy task. Having support and regular check-ins with senior leaders have been crucial to our progress. There are times when diaries get busy, and there is always more we can do, but the key to our success has been regular, formalised meetings to keep us on track.

I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved so far but there’s plenty more work for us to do. The second half’s about to start and we’re ready for kick off.”

Virgin Media is part of Liberty Global, the world’s largest international TV and broadband company and has around 20,000 employees and contractors in the UK and Ireland serving almost 6 million cable customers and 3 million mobile customers.  To grow their business in a way that’s good for people, communities and the environment, they’re harnessing the positive power of digital technology to make good things happen inside and outside their business.